Rares J has ordered that Centrefold Entertainment’s trade mark registration for CENTREFOLD, No 1695466, be expunged from the Register on the grounds that it is not capable of distinguishing “Entertainment’s” services.

Both Entertainment and Metro are in the business of providing “promo models” and adult entertainment services.[1] Metro promoted its services under the sign “Centrefold Strippers”. Having secured its registration for CENTREFOLD, Entertainment sued Metro for infringement. Things did not turn out how it hoped!

Entertainment argued that CENTREFOLD was a “covert and skilful allusion to its services, not descriptive of them.” It argued that the ordinary meaning of the word was of a person or the particular pages in particular types of magazine.

Rares J rejected this argument on the grounds that the word registered was a “noun” and not an adjective. However, Entertainment used the word in an adjectival sense as part of the composite mark “Centrefold Entertainment”. Hmmm.

Perhaps more compellingly, his Honour pointed out at [93] that there were at least three businesses in the adult entertainment field using names which included CENTREFOLD: Centrefold Lounge, Centrefold Strippers (i.e., Metro) and Centrefold Entertainment itself.

Also, the evidence showed that models who had achieved the status of being Centrefolds, promoted themselves as such and could often command a premium for their services.

In these circumstances, the word was not metaphorical or allusive. At [101], his Honour explained:

“Centrefold” is an ordinary English word that is apt to describe the kinds, qualities and characteristics of performers, models and others, as persons who appear, or have appeared or are prepared to appear, nude or scantily clad before strangers and in pages of magazines. Any supplier of adult entertainment services of the kind comprised in the designated services, without improper motive, might desire to use the word “centrefold” to describe that supplier’s services. That is because of the ordinary signification of the word: Cantarella 254 CLR at 358 [58].[2]

Next, his Honour held that Entertainment’s use of “Centrefold” was not sufficiently substantial to warrant registration under (the “new” version of) s 41(4).

Bear in mind that the trade mark was registered from 22 May 2015.

It appears to have been common ground that Entertainment had not used “Centrefold” alone before it applied to register its trade mark.

Secondly, until about March 2014 (i.e. just over a year before the filing date of the trade mark), the principal of Entertainment had been running two businesses, “XXX Princess” and “Centrefold Entertainment”. XXX Princess was the business promoting the adult entertainment services – by reference to XXX Princess. As part of a deliberate strategy, Centrefold Entertainment’s website and Facebook page did not explicitly promote adult entertainment services. It was only from March 2014 that Entertainment’s website explicitly promoted adult entertainment services by reference to its composite mark (see below). In that period (March 2014 to May 2015), the evidence showed Entertainment had only 2,000 customers. Rares J ruled at [107]:

It is unlikely that the limited use of “centrefold” in Entertainment’s dealings with perhaps, at maximum, the 2,000 individuals who made the bookings (but none of whom, on the evidence, ever received a tax invoice), would have brought its name to their attention, or that of others who may have telephoned the business, as a brand or trade mark rather than, if at all, as a mere reference to a business name. This limited usage would not have brought into the public consciousness the use of “centrefold” as a brand or trade mark in association with the designated services of Entertainment.

The evidence also showed that neither Entertainment nor Metro spent much (if anything) by way of Google AdWords on “centrefold”, focusing their expenditure instead on “strippers” and “waitresses”. There was also evidence a mere 0.39% of hits on Metro’s “Centrefold Strippers” website came via “centrefold”.[3]

Now that all seems uncontroversial. There are some potentially problematic issues.

First, here is one of Entertainment’s Facebook posts from 6 May 2013:

It appears that that was essentially the form of Entertainment’s page from at least early 2012.

One might think that was use of the composite mark as a trade mark for adult entertainment services, albeit not use of the trade mark as registered alone. It seems that the phone number appearing in the ads was a common phone number for XXX Princess and Entertainment and, as already noted, Entertainment’s case seems to have been that the performers were actually arranged by “XXX Princess”. That said, I am rather mystified what Entertainment’s page was doing.

Secondly, there was some evidence of a period late in 2012 where the principal of Entertainment answered the telephone to those calling in to book a performer “Centrefold Entertainment”. It appeared likely that, if the caller was surprised they had not reached XXX Princess, that some business patter was deployed to dispel any confusion. His Honour unsurprisingly, with respect, characterised that use in effect as de minimis.

Thirdly, Entertainment’s evidence was that from September 2012, invoices to all customers were sent out under the composite mark. There was a glitch in the system, however, so it appears no-one received them. Somehow, the performers and Entertainment got paid.

There was also evidence from at least one of the performers that she sent (at least) one invoice for her services into Entertainment by reference to the composite mark. Rares J, however, discounted this as evidence of use on the basis that which entity they were billing was hardly of any moment to the performers and they were rather confused about which company or website they were providing their services through.

The passing off and ACL claims by each party against the other failed on a straightforward application of the Hornsby Building Information Centre case.

By reference to the use of the word “may” in s 126, Rares J considered that the power to grant an injunction was discretionary. If his Honour had not found the trade mark invalid, Rares J would have refused an injunction on the basis of “lack of clean hands”. In promoting its services on the web, Entertainment used photographs of scantily clad young ladies. 90% of the photographs, however, were not of any of its models. They were photographs found on the Internet, including from sources such as “Sports Illustrated”. The Court would not condone such deceptive practices through the coercive power of an injunction.

Metro Business Centre Pty Ltd v Centrefold Entertainment Pty Ltd [2017] FCA 1249

  • with apologies to Seth Justman and the J Geils Band.

  1. Apparently, a “promo model” is someone who provides his or her services to promote a business by, for example, handing out advertising or business cards in a public venue, or acting as an adornment at an event, such as appearing in a manufacturer’s clothing or livery at a trade or motor show. They do not appear naked, or partially naked and get paid $20 – $30 per hour. An adult entertainer (or, often, a “stripper”) would perform naked or partially naked and could earn 10 to 20 times that for a 20 – 30 minute show.  ?
  2. Entertainment’s case was no doubt “assisted” by its principal’s evidence to the effect that he had never heard the term being used to describe “centrefolds”!  ?
  3. The Google Analytics report showed almost 830,000 hits on the website for the relevant period.  ?